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The Beauty Monster

I grew up in a family that did not hold beauty in much esteem.

Both of my parents were uncomfortable around people who fit the cultural standard of physical attractiveness. It’s not that they were particularly unattractive – it’s just that for them, brains were more important than beauty. I was raised with the notion that vanity was bad. Spending time and money on your looks was wasteful. Wearing clothes that emphasized your physical attributes was pointless, because “Why would you want people to look at you that way?” Living in University towns all my life kept me in the company of other people who valued brains before beauty, so it felt normal.

When I married and moved away (yes, I lived with my parents until I married. They didn’t charge rent and the food was free), I was suddenly in the company of people who habitually wore makeup, dressed (to my eyes) provocatively, and emphasized beauty over brains. It was awkward, to say the least. My practical and very modest wardrobe appeared drab and mousy next to all that radiance. My lack of makeup had people confusing me for the new Sister at the local Catholic church. I don’t even want to talk about my hair.

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At the time, my ‘look’ wasn’t an issue wherein my husband’s job was concerned. He was working nights at a yarn factory, I was a very young mother, and we were poor. His career advanced over the years, and I became aware that, as his wife, I needed to cultivate a more polished exterior. I had no idea how to do it. All I knew was that I didn’t have $500 to go to someplace where I could simply say “make me beautiful” and be instantly rewarded. Eventually, though, I figured out what to wear, how to makeup my face, and fix my hair.

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Unfortunately, the beauty thing still l feels peculiar. I can do it, because now my husband is in a position where I am meeting with the very elegant and polished wives of Fortune 500 CEO’s and I need to be taken seriously. If I showed up in the standard uniform of black loose skirt, white t-shirt, and hair pulled back in a band, I’d look like a chicken in a peacock party.

The point of all this is to wonder why our culture, here in the USA, puts such a high premium on looks, often to the exclusion of the mind or heart. You can watch TV and see endless commercials advertising the merits of this wrinkle serum or that cellulite cream. “Erase the signs of aging!” they tell you, as if signs of aging are a bad thing (shouldn’t being experienced count for something?). Products are endorsed by slender young women, as if a 20-year old person is the final authority on automotive engineering, or diet pills. Once in a while you’ll see a handsome middle aged man (with a very full head of hair) endorsing something financial, but the only time you seem to see an older woman selling something is when it’s related to osteoporosis or bladder control problems. This annoys me.

There are products aimed at girls as young as 4 and 5 that encourage them to put on makeup, to change their natural looks and appear ‘prettier’. Girls as young as 9 or 10 pressure each other to lose weight, or look a particular way, or dress sexy. This breaks my heart. Little girls should be girls, not women.

This is beside the fact that our culture glorifies gorgeous women and makes fun of brainy ones. I don’t have a problem with beautiful women, but I do resent the message that if you aren’t beautiful, you’re somehow second-class, less worthy of notice, or less likely to find love.

Anastasia movie Fragile full movie What happened to our society that sex appeal now trumps all virtue? Why is it more important that your mate be considered hot, than, for example, dependable and honorable? You can say I am an extremely old-fashioned sort of person where all that is concerned. I don’t go looking down my nose at others, because everyone has their life to live and it’s not my job to approve or disapprove. However, I also hold myself and my husband to a particular standard. When we met, I saw his bright blue eyes, but then wondered what he was good for. At that time, I was looking for a husband who could fix things. Competence over physique. Brains before brawn. I found that in him. That he was 6’3″ with gorgeous legs and amazing eyes is, really, beside the point. Just as I am sure my Marilyn Monroe (at that time) proportions were incidental to him. *Ahem* Well, that’s beside the point.

OK, OK, so I know that looks are important, especially when you’re young and single. The fact is: people are attracted to attractive people. Duh, right? But the natural progression of things is for people to age, physiques soften and hair becomes less lustrous. And yet, we are told over and over again that we aren’t supposed to age. “Fight the signs of aging!” the TV screams at me. “Recapture your youth!” “Have the body of a 20 year old!” As if we’d want that. Who would we be fooling?

Truthfully? I like my wrinkles. I got them from smiling at my children as they grew older. My softened tummy doesn’t disturb me, it got that way carrying babies inside of it. I could probably join a gym and go 2 hours every morning. I have the time to do it. I’d look…oh…35 instead of 42. But here’s the thing, I LIKE 42. I am not threatened by youthful beauty, because I’ve been there and now it’s someone else’s turn to stress about how they look. My worry is for the people who do fret about it. There are so many women my age getting face lifts, tummy tucks, boob jobs, all this stuff in a very expensive and time-consuming attempt to stay young and competitive.

I also laugh on the inside at a snapshot of the future; they way things will be 40 years from now. The snapshot is of these 80 year old women and their impossibly buoyant bosoms

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One thought on “The Beauty Monster

  1. When I cut my hair short several years ago so that I could see my grey hairs come in, people thought I was insane.

    Like you, I like my wrinkles, and am horrified at the idea that someone would urge me to wipe away the traces that my life has left on my body. Its part of me. Personally, the more artificial someone’s appearance is, the more ugly they are. Beauty comes from within. The cosmetic industry encourages people to adopt deception as an identity, and that is ugly.

    Fatima Mernissi wrote a fascinating book on this subject, actually. I believe its called “The European Harem”. She posits that Western women, told they are worthless if not attractive to 18 year old boys, are not allowed to grow up. To become Women. To come into their full power as adults. They are held in a place of adolescence. She calls it the “harem of size 6”

    At the end of the book, she is on a plane and offers up a prayer to God where she essentially says, “Oh Allah! Thank You for having me born in the culture where harems are built with walls and veils instead of the land of the harem of size 6! How could I take to the streets protesting that my rights are being violated because I can’t find a skirt that fits?”

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